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William P. Thompson, Presbyterian and Ecumenical Leader, Dies at 87

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    William P. Thompson, Presbyterian and Ecumenical Leader, Dies at 87 Stately clerk had a long and distinguished career by Jerry L. Van Marter PCUSA News
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 27, 2006
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      William P. Thompson, Presbyterian and Ecumenical Leader, Dies at 87
      'Stately clerk' had a long and distinguished career
      by Jerry L. Van Marter
      PCUSA News Service
      April 27, 2006


      LOUISVILLE - William P. Thompson, 87, a towering figure in
      Presbyterian and ecumenical circles in the last half of the 20th
      century, died on April 27 in a hospital in suburban Chicago. He had
      been in declining health for several years.

      Thompson, a lawyer who spent most of his legal career in Wichita, KS,
      was a protege of Eugene Carson Blake. He was elected moderator of the
      General Assembly in 1965, and one year later succeeded Blake as
      General Assembly stated clerk.

      As stated clerk of the northern "stream" of Presbyterianism, he worked
      tirelessly for Presbyterian reunion with his counterpart in the
      southern church, the Rev. James E. Andrews. Ironically, Andrews died
      last month, leaving the church without its two most historically
      influential leaders.

      Reunion occurred in 1983. For one year, Andrews and Thompson served as
      co-interim stated clerks, vowing that neither would be a candidate in
      1984, when the first stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
      would be elected. But both men were drawn into the heated race.

      Andrews won. Thompson then retired.

      Thompson, a brilliant legal and organizational thinker, led the
      Presbyterian church through the civil-rights struggles of the 1960s,
      anti-Vietnam War movement of the late '60s and early '70s, and the
      battles for women's rights and gay rights in the '70s and '80s.

      For years after the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of
      America adopted a policy barring the ordination of non-celibate gays
      and lesbians, Thompson was one of its staunchest defenders. However,
      in retirement he changed his mind, and repeatedly expressed regret for
      his earlier stance. In 2001 he received the Lazarus Award from the
      southern California-based Lazarus Project, which advocates "a fully
      inclusive church."

      Thompson also followed Blake's lead into the worldwide ecumenical
      movement, continuing his predecessor's deep involvement in the World
      Council of Churches and the National Council of Churches. He was
      instrumental in the merger of several Reformed groupings into the
      World Alliance of Reformed Churches in 1970, and then served as the
      alliance's first president from 1970-1977. He was president of the
      National Council of Churches from 1975 to 1978.

      In 2000, he and his wife, Mary, established the William and Mary
      Thompson Ecumenical Scholarship Fund to develop leadership for the
      global ecumenical movement.

      Funeral services for Thompson are pending in Chicago.

      General Assembly Stated Clerk Clifton Kirkpatrick issued the following
      statement shortly after Thompson's death:


      The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has lost one of its greatest
      and best leaders in the passing of William P. Thompson. Speaking on
      behalf of the staff of the Office of the General Assembly (OGA),
      Presbyterians worldwide, and the ecumenical community of faith, I add
      my condolences to his wife Mary and the entire Thompson family.

      Those who worked with Bill called him a "living legend." He
      provided leadership to the church in a variety of capacities, which
      included serving first as Moderator of the General Assembly of the
      United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America and later
      as Stated Clerk of the same denomination; and as president of both the
      World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the National Council of
      Churches in Christ. He teamed up with Jim Andrews, his counterpart as
      Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church in the United States, to work
      to bring to reality the 1983 reunion to form our present-day PC(USA).

      Bill had a deep interest in Presbyterian history. During his
      tenure, the OGA's Department of History was transformed from a limited
      denominational national library and archives into a comprehensive
      ecumenical resource center.

      Bill was a recognized leader in the ecumenical movement. He
      was tireless in his advocacy for human rights, and he used well his
      skills as a mediator and reconciler.

      I have lost a good friend with the passing of Bill. I will
      especially miss his wisdom and keen insight. He truly loved this church.

      Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my
      life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever (Ps. 23:6).


      To learn more, visit http://www.pcusa.org/pcnews/
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